Audacious thieves hoping to get rich in a "red gold" rush have caused serious transport disruptions by stealing copper wire from a major Australian train network, officials said.
There had been at least 20 incidents of overhead wires being stolen on Melbourne's rail network since September, a rail spokeswoman said, causing disruptions to about 500 train services and stranding thousands of passengers.
Copper raiders have also hit cables on rail lines in Italy, where bridges and even tombs have also been targeted by thieves as worldwide demand for the metal soars.
The problem in Melbourne has become so bad that police set up a taskforce 10 days ago. Five people were arrested this week, Australian Associated Press reported.
Police said the thieves were acting foolishly because the copper they were stealing would fetch only a few hundred dollars from scrap metal dealers.
"What they are doing is life threatening and it's only a matter of time before someone is killed or injured, police sergeant Brian Clarke said.
Copper prices hit an all-time peak of $US8800 a tonne hit in May but are now down more than 23 per cent on that level.